Tina McKenzie: Channelling the passion of entrepreneurs

  • 01 Jul 2022

By Tina McKenzie - National Chair, Policy and Advocacy, FSB

As the head of a prominent recruitment company, placing people in their dream jobs is a life-long passion that drives my work.

My career began at the age of 12, washing dishes in our family café. By 14, I was vacuuming the snooker hall and allocating the balls. By 16, the café had turned into a taxi depot and I worked on the phones, giving directions to men four times my age.

There is no doubt that the skills I use every day in business – commitment, resilience, loyalty, communication and hard work – came from those experiences. Nothing prepares you for work more than a small, local and family-run business.

My first job after graduating was working with ex-offenders in Belfast. Every day, I encountered the lives of jobseekers who were endeavouring to move forward via meaningful employment. During this time I turned to the small business community for support in assisting those jobseekers’ journeys. These small business owners honed my sense of community, my empathy and the importance of human relationships in making business work.

I was fortunate to build a successful career in recruitment for 15 years, during which time I learned about all types of businesses and regulatory environments. I saw first-hand how some countries support SMEs, while others are not so well equipped. Business is the art of what is possible, and governments must provide fertile foundations and support so that all kinds of businesses can thrive, rather than find themselves held back by bureaucracy and heavy taxation.

In 2013 I returned to Belfast and started a recruitment company. I remember the first couple of days in my tiny office, with no staff, no customers, no phones and no computers. It’s hard to imagine that that was 10 years ago, when we now have offices all over Ireland! There is no doubt that a hunger for success and solutions helped, and continues to help, businesses around me with the biggest challenge –finding the right people at the right time.


Our call to government is to ensure it fulfils its role in looking out for businesses. I am looking forward to being that voice for all the entrepreneurs running SMEs.

The biggest challenge recently has been Covid-19, which saw the number of self-employed and small firms in the UK drop by 400,000 last year. This shows why it is vital for decision-makers to deliver pro-enterprise policies that not only support small businesses and allow them to grow, but also encourage new start-ups.

One pandemic positive, particularly for those working from home, has been the greater ability to take a first step into entrepreneurship without making the sudden leap from employment into self-employment. We have seen 800,000 ‘side-hustle’ businesses established, and with the right support from policymakers, many could become full-time businesses, replenishing our community. 

Starting a business can be a stressful and lonely journey. FSB strives to give new starters, existing small business owners and the self-employed the support required to make their venture successful. 

Throughout my career, I have met those who have said no to new ideas and closed doors to new business opportunities. This has only enhanced my passion for helping people into work, and shaped me into the entrepreneur I am today. 

I believe our focus for a new culture of enterprise should be helping people turn what they love into a viable, thriving and sustainable business. The impetus is on the Government to foster a business-friendly environment for entrepreneurs, enabling the small business community to thrive.

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